The Seattle Times March 8th editorial praising Republican Senators for passing the “Transportation Package” is another reminder of the fact they and now the Senate Republicans don’t understand the debacle facing the area from Sound Transit’s light rail program.
The 11.7-cent-per-gallon increase in gas tax will generate about $250M annually for transportation projects. Yet the ST 2015 budget has them spending nearly twice that money on light rail projects that will do absolutely nothing to ease I-5 congestion and will actually increase I-90 bridge congestion. Those expenditures will likely have to more than double over the next few years to complete the Prop 1 extensions by 2023.
Prop 1, which voters approved funding for in 2008, was supposed to extend from Mill Creek to Federal Way and across I-90 to downtown Redmond. Now ST claims additional funds are needed to extend beyond Northgate and Angle Lake along I-5 corridor and Overlake on the east side. ST has apparently convinced the Republican Senators to allow them to ask voters to approve an additional $11B in property taxes, most of which will be needed to complete the Prop 1 extensions
However, if Senate Republicans prevail, ST will be able to use the next 6 months promoting their ST 2040 plan for light rail extensions to every conceivable location to garner voter support. The 12/12/14 post details why the entire ST 2040 is “beyond words” that can adequately describe its problems. It’s like a modern day version of the Hans Christian Anderson fable “The Emperors New Clothes” with the “weavers of the magic cloth” portrayed by the Seattle Transit Board plans with their “magic carpet of light rail”. Like the fable, none of this would be possible without the support of the “wise men” of the Seattle Times urging voter support.
Unfortunately any money used to complete even the initial Prop 1 extensions will be wasted. The 12/20/14 post explains why Central Link extensions beyond the University in the north and SeaTac in the south will do absolutely nothing to relieve I-5 congestion. East Link’s confiscation of the I-90 center roadway will actually increase cross-lake congestion. Even worse, the high operating costs for light rail trains will require huge subsidies to operate over the longer routes.
East Link alone will require more than $250M annually to cover the shortfall between increased operating costs and any rational estimate for additional fare box revenue (See 1/22/15 post). The 12/20/14 post also explains how any ST 2040 extensions will exacerbate the operating cost shortfall and do nothing to relieve congestion anywhere.
The legislature needs to recognize that unless something is done, ST plans to begin East Link construction this year. As explained in the 3/07/15 post, not only will its construction disrupt cross-lake commuters and devastate the route into Bellevue, its operation will end forever the quiet solitude of the Mercer Slough Park and, more importantly, increase cross-lake congestion.
A competent state department of transportation would have required ST meet two requirements years before they allowed them to permanently close the I-90 Bridge center roadway. First, demonstrate the 4th lanes they add to the I-90 Bridge outer roadway will make up for the loss of the 2 center roadway lanes. The ST version of the R-8A configuration allowing center roadway closure differs from the R-8A configuration the FHA approved in their Sept. 2004 ROD. It required the two center roadway lanes be retained for HOV traffic. Make ST “demonstrate” the FHA is wrong.
The second requirement is that ST provide a detailed explanation of what East Link operation will consist of when service begins in 2023 (current plans call for one 4-car train every 8 minutes) and a “satisfactory” explanation of how light rail will meet current and future cross-lake transit demands
Unfortunately, the WSDOT under Secretary Lynn Peterson, who is also on the Sound Transit Board, apparently fails to recognize the need to meet either of these two basic transportation requirements.
Thus its up to the legislature to either make legislation allowing them to ask for voter approved property taxes contingent on meeting the above requirements or to use their WSDOT oversight to insist they require ST do so before approving closure of bridge center roadway. Whichever option is used, the best outcome would be for ST to "concede" East Link can’t meet either requirement and end it. Since thats not likely to happen it will take legislative action to stop it.
Stopping East Link could be just the first step in preventing ST from wasting hundreds of millions each year that, if redirected, could go a long way towards ending the need for any increase in gas taxes. But time is getting short.